After the disaster that was U.S. pro road racing in 2009 as Daytona Motorsports Group formally took over the AMA system, 2010’s season opener at Daytona definitely opened up a ray of hope for the series.
Despite poor entries — a sad 45 bikes in the "premier" 200 race and an equally disappointing 20 in the championship Superbike contest — the Superbike racing was excellent, and while the 200 was problematical for a number of reasons, the teams felt that the organization was 100% improved.
Past champion and current Pat Clark Motorsports Yamaha rider Ben Bostrom said at a post-race press conference that he thought that the series had "turned a corner" and you "could feel the love in the pits."
Jake Zemke, now teamed with Aaron Yates on the Michael Jordan Suzuki team after a long career with Honda, took both wins in the Thursday/Friday Superbike contests. They were squeakers; Zemke came out on top of a five-rider battle on Thursday by 0.238 seconds over Yoshimura Suzuki rider Tommy Hayden and Larry Pegram’s Foremost Insurance Ducati with Aaron Yates and Blake Young also within 0.03 seconds, while the second was even closer, as Zemke drafted by Hayden to win by 0.0009 seconds, with Ben Bostrom another 0.07 seconds back.
Both races were barn-burners with numerous lead changes and close racing between the Ducati, Suzuki, and Yamaha contingents. A big disappointment was the failure of ex-Moto GP rider John Hopkins, who suffered machine problems in both events and didn’t finish either contest. It appeared to be mere bad luck, as his team-mate on the M4 Suzuki team, Chris Ulrich, had no such troubles.
A noteworthy entry was Canadian Brett McCormick on his Picotte Performance GSX-R1000. He suffered an engine problem in the first race for a DNF, but finished a strong eighth in the second, an excellent performance.
The featured 200-mile race, which started 44 riders (out of 45 entries) instead of the 80 or so that has been common in the past, lost half a dozen racers on the first lap, as early favourite Martin Cardenas of Venezuela crashed entering T-2, and several other riders piled up behind.
The incidents were no doubt due to cold tires; one thing DMG didn’t change was running the race at night under the lights, and the cold temperatures (it started out at barely 50o F and dropped into the high 30s before the race ended) made keeping heat in the tires a bad joke.
At the end, only 25 riders were running, 13 of the 19 DNFs having crashed — unfortunately including McCormick, who’d set a couple of fastest race laps before crashing out shortly after half-distance. He was credited with 27th, just behind Melissa Paris who crashed in the chicane while heading for a top 10 spot with only 10 laps left.
Josh Herrin took his Graves Yamaha to the win, at 19 the youngest rider to win the event since 1955 (when 18-year-old Brad Andres won on the beach for Harley-Davidson). It was particularly sweet since he’d lost in 2009 to his then-teammate Ben Bostrom in a drafting duel to the line. A strong ride obviously helped, but excellent pit work made the difference to Herrin’s victory. "I was expecting Dane to catch me because I was stressing so bad about dropping the bike," the 19-year-old Herrin said. "It was a relief when I saw the pit board [after the last stops] and could concentrate on getting to the checkered flag."
Dane Westby kept Herrin honest till then, but couldn’t catch back up to the draft and settled for a good second ahead of former 200 winner Steve Rapp, this year on a Ducati 848. Like Westby, Rapp was fast enough to win, leading the race a few times early on, but his pit team couldn’t match the speed of the Graves outfit.
Here’s hoping that the series continues to improve. DMG’s renewed commitment to communicating with the teams and riders is definitely started things off on the right foot. Perhaps you can’t quite accept "the love in the pits" that Bostrom said he felt, but it’s looking good. Some work is still needed; three days after the event, the web site still shows the 2009 point standings …
AMA Superbike Standings after two of 10 scheduled events
1. Jake Zemke, National Guard Jordan Suzuki, 62 points; 2. Tommy Hayden, Yoshimura Suzuki, 50; 3. TIE, Larry Pegram, Foremost Insurance Ducati and Aaron Yates, Jordan Suzuki, 37; 5. Blake Young, Yoshimura Suzuki, 30;
6. Taylor Knapp, Ridersdiscount.com Suzuki, 25; 7. TIE, Ben Bostom, Pat Clark Yamaha, and Chris Ulrich, Roadracing World.com/M4 Suzuki, 24; 9. Josh Hayes, Graves Yamaha, 23; 10. Shane Narbonne, DASPerformance.com Suzuki, 20.
Next race, March 28, Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, California.